Food addiction has gotten a bum rap these days. Now, instead of calling it as it is, it’s “sugar coated” (no pun intended!) as an Eating Addiction. I suppose we can think of it as tomato (tomayto) or tomato (tomahto) depending on where you are from but at the end of the day it’s still a tomato.
At the end of the eating addiction you might find food addiction and at the end of food addiction you might find eating addiction. If you want to get persnickety a food addiction is an addiction to a particular food where an eating addiction is plain ole addiction to all food.
And while we’re on the subject of food addiction, or eating addiction as some like to call it, we need to look at compulsive eating, which only confuses the matter more. Compulsive eating, from my perspective, as an eating disorder specialist and food addict in recovery, is really no different than compulsive drinking or smoking. The same chemical imbalance drives all three.
A quick 101 lesson in: food addiction, binge eating disorder and compulsive eating. Food addiction is a disease that is characterized by a loss of control over the inability to stop eating certain foods. Furthermore, a person can become addicted to the chemical reactions resulting from the consumption of particular foods.
Guess which foods these might be? Yep, Sugar, fat, and salt. A chemical dependency on food can be likened to a drug addict who becomes addicted to the high or euphoria experienced when abusing their substance of choice. I cover this subject extensively in my first book of the Release Your Obsession Series, Food addiction: Release Your Obsession with Food: Heal from the Inside Out.
Binge eating is quite similar to food addiction as the food addict always binge eats. The difference is that the binge eater is not always a food addict. A compulsive eater is the same as a binge eater and may not be addicted, but again the food addict always is a compulsive eater.
Yvonna, a lovely well-endowed Italian girl, claimed she was addicted to sugar, fat, and salt—that once she started eating them she couldn’t stop. It stemmed way back in her early childhood on road trips with her parents, along with a step mom and step dad and two sets of grandparents all who indulged little Yvonna with any sweet and salty treat she desired. Her fondest memories are weekends at Disney World—the most magical place on earth, according to her. She felt alive and free and happy and princess-like and it made her feel loved. She intertwined her love for Twizzlers, salty chips, and Hershey Kisses for her parents, and extended family’s love.
Yvonna learned to eat these foods to feel better.
Like Yvonna, you have learned to eat to feel better and the foods that feel best to you are probably high in fat, enriched white flour and full of sugar like donuts, cookies, ice cream, French fries and potato chips. This is known as the palatable food problem because it lights up the same addictive dopaminergic pathway as cocaine, ensuring that once you start you’ll crave more!
It was for this brain signal that Yvonna couldn’t stop eating. Low serotonin levels initiate carbohydrate cravings are also responsible for the brain not knowing how to detect that the stomach is full in a timely manner—that is before too much food is consumed.
As noted with Yvonna, who picked up 30 pounds, it’s the kind and quantity of food that causes weight gain. Fresh fruits and vegetables with lean proteins, good sources of rich high-fiber starchy carbs and fats such as olive and coconut oil are not the culprits. It’s the simple carbohydrates such as sweets and foods made from refined sugars and flours that have the chemical structure that can be more readily stored as fats in the body especially if they are eaten in quantities that are not burned off as energy.
This is not to say that all carbohydrates are the bad guy as it seems to be touted these days, and to make matters worse too many people with low serotonin opt for no carb diets that can magnify weight problems long term. You see when they stop eating the carbs they stop medicating the low serotonin feeling and start to feel bad—really bad. And of course soon they become too uncomfortable physically and emotionally and guess what they do? Yep, they turn to the processed carbs. So, all you high protein dieters out there think again…you are creating the perfect storm….
Complex carbohydrates, which are whole, unprocessed foods containing naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and fiber require the body to work harder (burn more calories) in their digestion and are a longer lasting fuel source than simple carbohydrates. So, if you think you tend to gain weight when eating carbohydrates take a closer look perhaps you are eating processed carbs which is no different than eating a nice slice of cardboard. Yum.
Select complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato, oatmeal, or brown rice and you will not only burn through them you will actually feel better because eating an adequate amount of complex carbohydrates throughout the day is an important element in the amino acid conversion process that leads to balanced brain chemistry.
Balance is the key here. A person with low serotonin levels eating high protein and no to extremely low carbohydrates are feeding their brain poor quality fuel that spikes energy but also robs your brain of serotonin by eating competing chemicals and shortchanging by not eating a sufficient amount of complex carbs to help the right chemicals cross the blood brain barrier.
The long term effect is that serotonin levels can be lowered even further, increasing depression along with a felt need to engage in all the behaviors that promote weight gain in order to feel better.
So for sure food addiction has gotten a bum rap these days and will not change any time soon. Some like to soften the idea of a food addiction by using words such as eating addiction or compulsive eating but in any event it is an inability to stop eating that causes havoc in your daily life interrupting work and family and other relationships.
No doubt food addiction is addicted to a specific food while eating addiction is addicted to food period and compulsive eating is eating out of control which covers the first two. Any way you cut it it’s not fun and needs to be addressed by speaking to an eating disorder professional or attending a twelve step group or researching books on the subject to understand how to take on the giant within.
What are your thoughts on food addiction? Do you think it’s real? What about eating addiction? Do you see the two as separate or one of the same? How does compulsive eating fit into the mix? Inquiring minds (mine for sure) want to know.
Stay tuned…you never know where my mind will wander next…
Hugs to you…I care!
Speaker, writer, licensed clinical psychotherapist, PhD in addiction psychology, eating disorder professional, hypnotherapist changing the view about compulsive eating one addict at a time.